England manager Gareth Southgate expressed pride and disappointment after his side crashed out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage on Wednesday.
The Three Lions fell 2-1 to Croatia in extra-time, as Mario Mandzukic scored a late winner to break English hearts.
England took an early lead through Kieran Trippier’s free-kick, but Ivan Perisic restored parity with a 68th-minute strike as Croatia took control of the game in the second half.
Southgate admitted his opponents asserted themselves better after the game’s opening stanza.
“I think [Croatia] played well in the the second half and we lost a bit of control with the ball, and we started to go a bit longer,” the England manager told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“When you’re ahead in a huge game, and one that many of our players hadn’t played in before, nobody knows how you’re going to react until you’re in it.”
England advanced to the semi-final stage despite fielding a young and inexperienced side. Of the 15 players to see the field on Wednesday only two – Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling – had played in a World Cup prior to 2018.
“We knew the team we brought was the most inexperienced team in the competition and the only way we’re going to boost that is by playing in more tournament games,” Southgate added.
“I am immensely proud by the way the players have played and we can see by the reaction of the supporters, they felt the same. It was difficult to say anything that will make them feel better at his moment.
“They have not experienced that before playing with England and it also shows that it can be a memorable experience playing for their country.”
Though Southgate said the World Cup would be remembered as a success, he also couldn’t help but feeling like it was an opportunity lost.
“It’s a very difficult situation to be in. We, as a team, have made incredible progress and probably got to a stage where at the start of the tournament we would have considered a success,” Southgate said.
“But we really believed we could go another stage.”